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iPhone 5 owners shouldn't be scared of Lightning

Posted on 17 Jan 2013 at 11:53

Jon Honeyball dismisses concerns about Apple's decision to move to the Lightning connector on the iPhone 5

Some people are taking the view that the new Lightning connector on the iPhone 5 is indeed "very very frightening", if I might be allowed a fair-usage quotation from the works of Her Majesty the Queen.

It’s a big change, it isn’t backwards-compatible without adapters, and from every single imaginable angle it’s going to be a right royal pain to implement. I have plenty of the old cables: every one of my travel bags has at least one in it, and my cars have all had little cigarette lighter socket-to-USB adapters and the obligatory iPhone connector so I can charge up an iPhone or iPad on the move.

In the car I use a TomTom 940 for satnav, but also as a hands-free kit for the phone connected via Bluetooth. It works just fine for that task, and means I can put the phone away in a glove box wired up to an iPhone power cable.

With Lightning, all that’s going to change. It isn’t the same, and I have to buy new cables for the iPhone 5 and now for the new iPads too. A loud growl was heard across the land emanating from Cambridgeshire, especially when I discovered that I couldn’t order spare cables from Apple during the initial launch period of iPhone 5. A large cup of coffee has restored me to calmness and my horns have retracted some way.

We have to remember that the old connector has been around for a very long time indeed. In fact, if you go back to the beginning it supports FireWire, including power, to allow for connection to the original iPod. Then it was changed to USB power and data, and then video was added, too. All this turned it into a connector where there’s just no space left, and nowhere left to go, yet it’s still in effect supporting old and no-longer-used connection methods. Clearly it’s time to make a change, and if you really have to make a change then it’s best to make a big one that will last you an equally long time.

What Apple appears to have done is extremely clever

That’s just what Apple has done with the Lightning connector. Some people are moaning that it really should have been a micro-USB connector, which misses the point entirely. Micro-USB is already an old standard, and it doesn’t support a ton of stuff that Apple will want to do today and in the future.

Micro-USB might be prevalent on other makers’ smartphones, but it’s a horrible plug-and-socket arrangement – you must have it the right way up and it’s rather difficult to tell up from down unless you look very closely. It’s fiddly and awkward for people with poor eyesight or limited dexterity, so why on earth would Apple want to implement it?

What Apple appears to have done is extremely clever. The plug is simple to use, can go in either way up and has a positive, easy engagement action. Both location and insertion are simple and reliable, but it has only a very small number of pins, so how can it do all the things that are required? The answer is very clever indeed: the plug configuration changes on the fly, depending on what it’s plugged into. In other words, there appears to be a standard handshake going on at initial insertion where the requirements are negotiated, then the pin layout is changed dynamically to support that particular mode.

The advantage of this is huge. It means you can create future operational modes for this plug and cable, which you know nothing about right now; the system can reconfigure itself to provide the necessary channels of communication and power combinations for new modes. A cynic might say: "Aha, this allows Apple to lock out particular combinations, and thus lock out some third-party devices." Well yes, it does, but you’d need a licence to use this connector anyway, so this is a moot point.

I applaud the decision to go to Lightning. If you’re going to make a change then make one that really is a leap forward, and isn’t just a change of plug for the sake of fashion or size constraints. Come up with something clever that’s reconfigurable on the fly, and which can be used for a whole host of purposes.

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User comments

That's Unusual

Jon praising Apple? Surely not.

By Oh_No_Not_Again on 17 Jan 2013

Almost

I agree generally, however a company as large as Apple could have really softened the blow by including an adapter with each iPhone. Instead, for the sake of a small bundled adapter, they have irritated and alienated quite a few people unecessarily with this.

By Trippynet on 17 Jan 2013

Couldn't agree more...

I have the retina iPad (with the old connection) and an iPhone 5. it was always a hassle to figure out which way the old connector went especially in poorly lit areas before going to bed and sometimes could be a real hassle to plug into dock connectors. not sure if the lightning issue is any better with dock connectors but i just wish my new ipad had the lightning connector even though i have tonnes of old cables. the fact is that it is a doddle to plug in and has a very satisfying click so you know its in properly-unlike the old one where you couldnt always tell. it just goes to show what forward thinking and common sense rather than conformity can achieve

By domster2 on 17 Jan 2013

WORKS BOTH WAYS!!!

“Micro-USB might be prevalent on other makers’ smartphones, but it’s a horrible plug-and-socket arrangement – you must have it the right way up and it’s rather difficult to tell up from down unless you look very closely.”

Millions of people around the world use this “horrible arrangement” every day with absolutely no problem. Micro-USB fits one way. If it’s not fitting then you just turn it over. If you can’t work that out then buy an Apple device (is that really what you’re trying to say?). Lightning may have some pretty significant advantages but this “AMAZINGLY IT FITS BOTH WAYS” feature really isn’t one that deserves all this attention.


“It’s fiddly and awkward for people with poor eyesight or limited dexterity, so why on earth would Apple want to implement [micro-USB]?”

Er, if you have limited use of your hands or can’t see a plug, perhaps an eminently scratch-able £600 touch phone with “Stunning” ™ Retina display isn’t for you. Alcatel do an excellent phone with giant keys and a big low-res display, I believe – although, I suspect that it uses the dreaded micro-USB that they won’t be able to plug in!

By TheHonestTruth on 17 Jan 2013

The standard usb connection on my phone is awesome!!! Another reason to point and laugh at the iDiots - hahaha

By NR5674 on 17 Jan 2013

We all know that Apple can do what they like and the press just praise away. If any other manufacture had tried this the story would be different.

By stephen_d_morris on 17 Jan 2013

Micro USB

Couldn't more about micro USB. Love my S3 but the micro usb is fiddly and even with glasses its not easy to see the orientation. Wish all the manufacturers would put a symbol on the connectors to show the correct orientation

By simontompkins on 17 Jan 2013

Only two ways?

Why is a connector that can fit in either of two ways good?

I have a phone with a headphone socket into which the plug can be inserted with infinite degrees of rotation.

How cool is that?

By synaptic_fire on 17 Jan 2013

I am also in agreement about the micro-usb connector.

It is horrendous. The Mini-usb was so much better.

However any cable where you don't have to look which way up is the best way forward.

By bigrob14 on 17 Jan 2013

solution

god if it's so hard to work out which way up it needs to be, put a little dot on it with tippex or some such. personally i haven't had a problem with micro usb...

By sihaz2 on 17 Jan 2013

@NR5674

"The standard usb connection on my phone is awesome!"

Well you're not hard to please. Do you get a box of tissues out when your "standard usb connection" starts charging your device...

By BliksemPiet on 17 Jan 2013

@sihaz2

"Personally I haven't had a problem with micro usb".

Nope, you've got tippex!! Perhaps Apple should have downgraded to micro USB and included a bottle of tippex with the iPhone 5!! Try send your ideas to Apple earlier...

By BliksemPiet on 17 Jan 2013

@TheHonestTruth

"Millions of people around the world use this “horrible arrangement” every day with absolutely no problem."

Not true, NR5674 also has to use tippex to charge his device...

By BliksemPiet on 17 Jan 2013

Not scared, but angry and exploited

The majority of the world are not technophiles and don't want to spend time and energy buying adaptors, cables etc. Apple is only keen on monopolising the world! They want us to use cloud, wifi and 4g instead of cables... and so micro-usb is enough for 99% of the world... which is prob just to charge the battery! Thank god for Android and samsung in understanding the average user.

By mcmpro1 on 17 Jan 2013

USB3

I don't mind the change to lightening but if you are going to have this change that will disrupt everything then why not make it USB 3.0 at the same time?

At leats give people a good reason to upgrade.

By Matthew94 on 17 Jan 2013

@bliksempiet

The conversation mentioned people with limited use of their hands or bad eyesight. I have neither nor do I have a problem using USB cables, but i think suggesting a solution for people who do is more positive than making sarcastic comments here. You are also 100% wrong in respect of tippex, I do not own any!

By sihaz2 on 18 Jan 2013

@sihaz2

You're joking right? Your solution of tippex is better than innovation?

The gist of the article was that lightning would BENEFIT those with limited dexterity. You want to dismiss technological progress for the sake of tippex??

Sometimes sarcasm is necessary to highlight stupid anti-Apple comments. You're welcome.

By BliksemPiet on 18 Jan 2013

@BliksemPiet

"Sometimes sarcasm is necessary to highlight stupid anti-Apple comments. You're welcome."

Wow, I'm not sure where exactly you get the anti-apple bit from. Never mentioned apple once. My solution of a small white dot for people who are struggling with working out which way up a usb cable goes is simple and cheap, just like some of the comments on this board :-)

By sihaz2 on 18 Jan 2013

@Sihaz2

Isn't it interesting how common sense and fine British bodging are so often mistaken for being "anti-Apple"?

Technological progress actually worth trumpeting include 14nm chips and carbon nano tubes, NOT a plug that fits both ways.

By TheHonestTruth on 18 Jan 2013

@TheHonestTruth

"Isn't it interesting how common sense and fine British bodging are so often mistaken for being "anti-Apple"?"

Um no, it's your constant negative comments on anything Apple related that make you anti-Apple :-)

Note to editor: in future, please ONLY report on 14nm chips and carbon nano tubes. Now THAT's technology!!

By BliksemPiet on 18 Jan 2013

@BliksemPiet

Read my original post and you'll see that I mentioned Lightning has "significant advantages". However, being able to fit both ways isn’t one of them. It might be big news in Grazia magazine, but for a technology site aimed at PC professionals to scream about it? Er, no.

Apology accepted.
:-D

Note to editor: I agree with BliksemPiet, please ONLY report on 14nm chips and carbon nano tubes. A small footnote or incidental mention is more than enough for this FITS BOTH WAY!! stuff.

By TheHonestTruth on 18 Jan 2013

Peripherals

Given that connectors on peripherals are all of the old sort, it does look like a mistake. A quick look in my local supermarket shows all Apple peripheral have the old connector.
As an addition to the fits both ways debate, USB cables should all be marked with a USB symbol on the top of the connector meaning that Tippex is not required.

By tirons1 on 18 Jan 2013

@TheHonestTruth

A connector that can fit both ways is not an advantage? Now you've lost all credibility.

I suspect Lacrobat has returned under a different name, drivel sounds familiar.

By BliksemPiet on 18 Jan 2013

@BliksenPiet

What? When did I say that double sided use is not an advantage?

Of course it’s an advantage, and worth mentioning as an aside (like I said in my previous post). But, again as in my previous post, is it a SIGNIFICANT advantage to most tech professionals on this site? No.

Like those little perforation-starts to help you tear a plastic packet open, or colour-coded sound jacks. Handy to have? Yes. Useful? Sure. Worth making a song and dance about? Nope. Worth basing a procurement decision on? Certainly not.

So before you launch your next little persecuted rant to support your beloved fruit, please calm your indignation and actually read what’s been posted (although, reading your childish personal insult to NR5674, above, perhaps you may find these things difficult?).

Anyway, apology accepted, again!

By TheHonestTruth on 18 Jan 2013

moderation

Would love to know why my last post was allowed here for a while then removed. Not sure what rules I have broken but would be glad to k ow how to avoid breaking them in future. Moderator please feel free to email.me what i did wrong. Thanks!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

moderation

Would love to know why my last post was allowed here for a while then removed. Not sure what rules I have broken but would be glad to k ow how to avoid breaking them in future. Moderator please feel free to email.me what i did wrong. Thanks!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

moderation

Would love to know why my last post was allowed here for a while then removed. Not sure what rules I have broken but would be glad to k ow how to avoid breaking them in future. Moderator please feel free to email.me what i did wrong. Thanks!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

moderation

Would love to know why my last post was allowed here for a while then removed. Not sure what rules I have broken but would be glad to k ow how to avoid breaking them in future. Moderator please feel free to email.me what i did wrong. Thanks!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

moderation

Would love to know why my last post was allowed here for a while then removed. Not sure what rules I have broken but would be glad to k ow how to avoid breaking them in future. Moderator please feel free to email.me what i did wrong. Thanks!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

moderation

Would love to know why my last post was allowed here for a while then removed. Not sure what rules I have broken but would be glad to k ow how to avoid breaking them in future. Moderator please feel free to email.me what i did wrong. Thanks!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

ps

Pressing submit on android does not give you the message saying that your message will show up soon, hence the multiple posts. Apologies.

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

@sihaz2

Don't worry, lots of people get caught out by the resubmission bug. Hopefully one year PCPro will get tired of multiple submissions and fix it.

By tirons1 on 19 Jan 2013

@sihaz2

YOu can normally tell which way up a USB connector is by the logo.

By tirons1 on 19 Jan 2013

@tirons1

thanks mate, i don't get caught out by it on a pc but my tablet got me!

By sihaz2 on 19 Jan 2013

It's obvious why you need a double sided connector, tippex won't be seen on a white connector.

By stevew23 on 21 Jan 2013

It's obvious why you need a double sided connector, tippex won't be seen on a white connector.

By stevew23 on 21 Jan 2013

no answer

ok - waited a few days and no answer from the moderator about removing my post so i'll put it back and see what happens again. all i want to know is what rule i'm breaking....

By sihaz2 on 22 Jan 2013

Multiple postings!

@BliksenPiet - I am anti-apple! Not because of their products, which are generally very good, but because !) I want to own what I buy not use it for as long as Apple approves (your itunes downloads!) and I want to decide how I decide what I put on my equipment and how I use it not meekly follow the Apple way.
That aside isn't it about time that PC Pro's publisher and it's staff fixed the embarrassing multiple posting issue on their forums AND also allowed editing subsequent to posting? Come on this is supposed to be a magazine/forum for Professionals!

By Minou on 22 Jan 2013

@TheHonestTruth

"WORKS BOTH WAYS!!!" Read your first post, now that's a rant ;-)

YOU'RE WELCOME!!!!

By BliksemPiet on 24 Jan 2013

@Minou

I don't know why you find it necessary to be so negative all the time? Progress is progress, whether small or great, and to dismiss small progress as not newsworthy because you hate Apple is just ignorant.

So what if you didn't enjoy the article above? That doesn't mean other people didn't find it interesting?

I see advantages to Apple products as well as disadvantages, the same with Microsoft. I don't know, maybe its just a maturity thing.

By BliksemPiet on 24 Jan 2013

Cost?

I'm not really bothered about the 'it goes in either way' thing. I was miffed when I realised I had lots of old Apple cables that wouldn't work any more.

However, now that you can get them for a couple of quid from Amazon again, I'm happy again.

By stu531 on 24 Jan 2013

One-Way or Both-Way Doesn't Matter

I'm using an old Samsung Galaxy S. The micro USB connector is moulded unsymmetrical in shape that once you grab the connector you immediately know which way to plug it in.

I'm not anti-Apple but I feel dumb to pay for its price because Apple now is no more leader but playing catch-up in term of innovation and some comparable quality products from other manufacturers cost less.

By MZaki on 25 Jan 2013

One-Way or Both-Way Doesn't Matter

I'm using an old Samsung Galaxy S. The micro USB connector is moulded unsymmetrical in shape that once you grab the connector you immediately know which way to plug it in.

I'm not anti-Apple but I feel dumb to pay for its price because Apple now is no more leader but playing catch-up in term of innovation and some comparable quality products from other manufacturers cost less.

By MZaki on 25 Jan 2013

@Minou

Sorry Minou! My last post was for TheHonestTruth :-)

By BliksemPiet on 25 Jan 2013

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Jon Honeyball

Jon Honeyball

Jon is one of the UK's most respected IT journalists and a contributing editor to PC Pro since it launched in 1994. He specialises in Microsoft technologies, including client/server and office automation applications.

Read more More by Jon Honeyball

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